South African Scholars open this year’s Oldenborg Luncheon Colloquium Program


Two women sit at round tables, one wears a scarf and hold a microphone.
University of Cape Town professors, Dr. Shari Daya and Dr. Pippin Anderson spoke at the first Oldenborg Luncheon Colloquium of the semester. (Molly Murphey • The Student Life)

Each year, the Globalization, Environment and Society (GES) study abroad program at the University of Cape Town (UCT) sends four Pomona College students to South Africa for a semester of study. Last week, two of the UCT core faculty visited Pomona to give students and faculty a sample of the program’s curriculum.

On Sept. 7, Dr. Shari Daya and Dr. Pippin Anderson, both professors at the UCT, opened this year’s Oldenborg Luncheon Colloquium (OLC) series with their talk, “An Interdisciplinary Conversation on Landscape.”

Oldenborg collaborates with faculty to invite noted writers, activists, professionals, and scholars to speak on topics of cultural and international interest in our dining hall during the lunch hour,” Oldenborg Staff Director Carolina De la Rosa Bustamante said. “This international speaker series features a range of academic disciplines and professional industries and is meant to be accessible to attendees who do not necessarily have significant expertise in the topic at hand.”

Dr. Pippin Anderson, an urban ecologist, is the program director for the GES study abroad program, which is sponsored by Swarthmore, Pomona and Macalester colleges. Dr. Shari Daya is a cultural geographer and poet as well as the core course convener for the GES study abroad program.

The two scholars are longtime friends and collaborators. Their discussion, modeled after years of conversations on the topic, exemplified the tension between two divergent approaches to landscape while demonstrating the capacity of interdisciplinary collaboration to produce new understandings.

Gina Yum PO 25, a public policy major, plans to participate in the GES program during the spring semester of 2024. Yum said that she attended Anderson and Daya’s talk to learn more about the guiding questions behind her future course of study in Cape Town.

“I like translating my interest in environmentalism into my academic work,” Yum said.

In her introduction to an ecologist’s approach to landscape, Anderson cited two central threads of thought in the field.

The first was Charles Darwin’s theory on natural selection and the economist Thomas Robert Malthus’s theory on population growth. The second thread was conservation ecology, which Anderson explained in detail.

“I want to build an argument that not only are these two equally valid for understanding landscape, but doing both is the only way to produce a meaningful account or experience of the thing that we call the landscape.”

“[Conservation ecology is] the acknowledgement that actually you need to conserve the entire landscape to ensure the future of insects, groups of species or populations,” Anderson said.

Meanwhile, Daya depicted landscape through the lens of a cultural geographer. She began with a story of going on family hikes to Table Mountain, one of Cape Town’s iconic landmarks.

“What I loved about this walk was looking across from one point of the mountain into what we would call a kloof [a ravine]… I would try to grasp the feeling of being in that space that we couldn’t get to,” Daya said. “There was a sharp contrast between the dusty hiking paths that we were on in high summer when we were doing these hikes and that soft, cool romantic space.”

Daya drew the conclusion that humans experience landscape in one of two ways: by stepping back or stepping in.

“I want to build an argument that not only are these two equally valid for understanding landscape,” Daya said.“But doing both is the only way to produce a meaningful account or experience of the thing that we call the landscape.”

Anderson said that students in the GES Cape Town program will discover parallels between the histories of South Africa and the United States.

“It’s quite useful to get the distance from America but chew over some things that are actually very pertinent to an American youth or childhood or educational experience,” Anderson said.

Anderson also emphasized the valuable contributions of international students to the GES cohort in the past. Daya echoed Anderson’s sentiment, saying that visiting South Africa for the first time can be uncomfortable, but instructive for students.

“We have sort of roiling crises of all sorts,” Daya said. “We are a post-apartheid society. I would say [to students], ‘come if you’re interested and lean into the discomfort that you are probably going to feel.’ It’s not a negative. It’s something to puzzle through, as we are all puzzling through, you know, we choose to live there.”

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